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Medical And Superstitious Treatment Of The Insane In The Olden Time

Among our Saxon ancestors the treatment of the insane was a curious
compound of pharmacy, superstition, and castigation. Demoniacal
possession was fully believed to be the frequent cause of insanity, and,
as is well known, exorcism was practised by the Church as a recognized
ordinance. We meet with some interesting particulars in regard to
treatment, in what may be called its medico-ecclesiastical aspect, in a
work of the early part of the tenth century, by an unknown author,
entitled "Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England," or,
as we should say, "Medicine, Herb Treatment, and Astrology." It forms a
collection of documents never before published, illustrating the history
of science in this country before the Norman Conquest.[2] It clearly
appears that the Saxon leeches derived much of their knowledge directly
from the Romans, and through them from the Greeks, but they also
possessed a good deal of their own. The herbs they employed bespeak
considerable acquaintance with botany and its application to medicine as
understood at that day. The classic peony was administered as a remedy
for insanity, and mugwort was regarded as useful in putting to flight
what this Saxon book calls "devil sickness," that is, a mental malady
arising from a demon. Here is a recipe for "a fiend-sick man" when a
demon possesses or dominates him from within. "Take a spew-drink, namely
lupin, bishopwort, henbane, cropleek. Pound them together; add ale for a
liquid, let it stand for a night, and add fifty libcorns[3] or cathartic
grains and holy water."[4] Here, at any rate, we have a remedy still
employed, although rejected from the English Pharmacopoeias of 1746 and
1788--henbane or hyoscyamus--to say nothing of ale. Another mixture,
compounded of many herbs and of clear ale, was to be drunk out of a
church-bell,[5] while seven masses were to be sung over the worts or
herbs, and the lunatic was to sing psalms, the priest saying over him
the Domine, sancte pater omnipotens.

Dioscorides and Apuleius are often the sources of the prescriptions of
the Saxons, at least as regards the herb employed. For a lunatic it is
ordered to "take clove wort and wreathe it with a red thread about the
man's swere (neck) when the moon is on the wane, in the month which is
called April, in the early part of October; soon he will be healed."
Again, "for a lunatic, take the juice of teucrium polium which we named
polion, mix with vinegar, smear therewith them that suffer that evil
before it will to him (before the access), and shouldest thou put the
leaves of it and the roots of it on a clean cloth, and bind about the
man's swere who suffers the evil, it will give an experimental proof of
that same thing (its virtue)."[6]

It is greatly to be regretted that the virtues ascribed to peony, used
not internally, but in the following way, are not confirmed by
experience. "For lunacy, if a man layeth this wort peony over the
lunatic, as he lies, soon he upheaveth himself hole; and if he have this
wort with him, the disease never again approaches him."[7]

Mandrake, as much as three pennies in weight, administered in a draught
of warm water, was prescribed for witlessness; and periwinkle (Vinca
pervinca) was regarded as of great advantage for demoniacal possession,
and "various wishes, and envy, and terror, and that thou may have grace,
and if thou hast this wort with thee thou shalt be prosperous and ever

Then follows an amusing direction: "This wort shalt thou pluck thus,
saying, 'I pray thee, Vinca pervinca, thee that art to be had for thy
many useful qualities, that thou come to me glad, blossoming with thy
mainfulnesses; that thou outfit me so, that I be shielded and ever
prosperous, and undamaged by poisons and by wrath;' when thou shalt
pluck this wort, thou shalt be clean from every uncleanness, and thou
shalt pick it when the moon is nine nights old, and eleven nights, and
thirteen nights and thirty nights, and when it is one night old."[8]

For epilepsy in a child a curious charm is given in this book, used also
for "a dream of an apparition." The brain of a mountain goat was to be
drawn through a golden ring, and then "given to the child to swallow
before it tastes milk; it will be healed."[9]

Wolf's flesh, well-dressed and sodden, was to be eaten by a man troubled
with hallucinations. "The apparitions which ere appeared to him, shall
not disquiet him."[10]

Temptations of the fiend were warded off by "a wort hight red
niolin--red stalk--which waxeth by running water. If thou hast it on
thee and under thy head bolster, and over thy house doors, the devil may
not scathe thee, within nor without" (lviii.).

Again, we have a cure for mental vacancy and folly: "Put into ale
bishopwort, lupins, betony, the southern (or Italian) fennel, nepte
(catmint), water agrimony, cockle, marche; then let the man drink. For
idiocy and folly: Put into ale cassia, and lupins, bishopwort,
alexander, githrife, fieldmore, and holy water; then let him drink."

Although hardly coming under my theme, I cannot omit this: "Against a
woman's chatter: Taste at night fasting a root of radish, that day the
chatter cannot harm thee."

For the temptations of the fiend and for night (goblin) visitors, for
fascination, and for evil enchantments by song, they prescribed as
follows:--"Seek in the maw of young swallows for some little stones, and
mind that they touch neither earth nor water nor other stones; look out
three of them; put them on the man on whom thou wilt, him who hath the
need, he will soon be well."

The ceremonial enjoined in making use of a salve against the elfin race
and nocturnal goblin visitors (nightmare) is extremely curious. "Take
the ewe hop plant (probably female hop), wormwood, bishopwort, lupin,
etc.; put these worts into a vessel, set them under the altar, sing over
them nine masses, boil them in butter and sheep's grease, add much holy
salt, strain through a cloth, throw the worts into running water. If any
ill tempting occur to a man, or an elf or goblin night-visitors come,
smear his forehead with this salve, and put it on his eyes, and where
his body is sore, and cense him with incense, and sign him frequently
with the sign of the cross; his condition will soon be better"

There is no doubt that in these prescriptions a distinction was made
between persons who were regarded as possessed and those supposed to be
lunatics. For the latter, however, the ecclesiastical element came in as
well as the medical one. Herbs were prescribed which were to be mixed
with foreign ale and holy water, while masses were sung over the patient
"Let him drink this drink," say they, "for nine mornings, at every one
fresh, and no other liquid that is thick and still; and let him give
alms and earnestly pray God for his mercies." The union of ale and holy
water forms an amusing, though unintentioned, satire on the jovial monk
of the Middle Ages. I may remark that the old Saxon term "wood" is
applied in these recipes to the frenzied. It survives in the Scotch
"wud," i.e. mad.[12] Thus for the "wood-heart" it is ordered that
"when day and night divide, then sing thou in the Church, litanies, that
is, the names of the hallows (or saints) and the Paternoster." This was,
as usual, accompanied by the taking of certain herbs and drink. In some
instances, a salve was to be smeared on the temples and above the eyes.
Medicated baths were not omitted in their prescriptions. Thus for a
"wit-sick man," as they call him, they say, "Put a pail full of cold
water, drop thrice into it some of the drink, bathe the man in the
water, and let him eat hallowed bread and cheese and garlic and
cropleek, and drink a cup full of the drink; and when he hath been
bathed, smear with the salve thoroughly, and when it is better with him,
then work him a strong purgative drink," which is duly particularized.
It is unnecessary to give more of these quaint prescriptions, one of
which is a drink "against a devil and dementedness" (an illustration, by
the way, how the one idea ran into the other); those which I have given
will suffice to show the kind of pharmacopoeia in use, with the Saxon
monk-doctor, for madness. But did their treatment consist of nothing
more potent or severe than herbs and salves and baths? It would have
been surprising indeed had it not. And so we find the following
decidedly stringent application prescribed:--"In case a man be lunatic,
take a skin of mere-swine (that is, a sea-pig or porpoise), work it into
a whip, and swinge the man therewith; soon he will be well. Amen."[13]

Before taking leave of this interesting book I think that the impression
left on the mind of the reader in regard to the circumstances under
which it was written, will be clearer, if I cite the following
description by the editor:--"Here," he says, "a leech calmly sits down
to compose a not unlearned book, treating of many serious diseases,
assigning for them something he hopes will cure them.... The author
almost always rejects the Greek recipes, and doctors as an herborist....
Bald was the owner of the book, Cild the scribe. The former may be
fairly presumed to have been a medical practitioner, for to no other
could such a book as this have had, at that time, much interest. We see,
then, a Saxon leech at his studies; the book, in a literary sense, is
learned; in a professional view not so, for it does not really advance
man's knowledge of disease or of cures. It may have seemed by the solemn
elaboration of its diagnoses to do so, but I dare not assert there is
real substance in it.... If Bald was at once a physician and a reader of
learned books on therapeutics, his example implies a school of medicine
among the Saxons. And the volume itself bears out the presumption. We
read in two cases that 'Oxa taught this leechdom;' in another, that
'Dun taught it;' in another, 'some teach us;' in another, an impossible
prescription being quoted, the author, or possibly Cild, the reedsman,
indulges in a little facetious comment, that compliance was not

Some light is thrown on the treatment of the insane in early English
days by a study of the "Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and
Ireland during the Middle Ages," published under the direction of the
Master of the Rolls. The inference to be drawn, however, is only that
which we might have drawn already from what I have stated. It is
observed by Mr. Brewer, the editor of one of these works, written by
Giraldus of Wales, who was born 1147, "For the sick, if medicine was
required, there was none to be had except in the monastery; and in this
country, at all events, the monks were the only medical
practitioners."[15] That at that time chains were employed for the
insane is incidentally shown by the following story. Walter Mapes,
chaplain to Henry II., when living in Gloucestershire, in the Forest of
Dean, fell ill. The abbot of a Cistercian house visited him, and used
his utmost efforts to induce him to become a monk of their order. Mapes,
who was well known to be inimical to Religious Orders, thereupon called
his clerks and attendants (he was a canon and archdeacon), and said, "If
ever in my sickness, or on any other occasion, I ask for this habit, be
certain that it arises not from the exercise of my reason, but the
violence of my disease, as sick men often desire what is foolish or
prejudicial. But should it ever so happen that I resolutely insist on
becoming a monk then bind me with chains and fetters as a lunatic who
has lost his wits, and keep me in close custody until I repent and
recover my senses." ("Tanquam furibundum et mente captum catenis et
vinculis me statim fortiter astringatis, et arcta custodia," etc.[16])

That at this period the influence of the moon in producing lunacy was
recognized (as, indeed, when and where was it not?) is proved by
observations of the above writer, Giraldus of Wales, in his
"Topographica Hibernica," vol. v. p. 79. "Those," he observes, "are
called lunatics whose attacks are exacerbated every month when the moon
is full." He combats the interpretation of an expositor of Saint
Matthew, who said that the insane are spoken of by him as lunatics, not
because their madness comes by the moon, but because the devil, who
causes insanity, avails himself of the phases of the moon (lunaria
tempora). Giraldus, on the contrary, observes that the expositor might
have said not less truly that the malady was in consequence of the
humours being enormously increased in some persons when the moon is

The name of Giraldus is associated with a celebrated holy well in
Flintshire, that of St. Winifred, said to be the most famous in the
British Isles. At her shrine he offered his devotions in the twelfth
century, when he says, "She seemed still to retain her miraculous
powers." The cure of lunacy at this well is not particularized, but it
is highly probable from the practice resorted to, as we shall see, at
others in Britain.[17]

I may here say that there is not much to be found in Chaucer (1328-1400)
bearing in any way upon the insane, though he occasionally uses the word
"wodeness" for madness, and "wood" or "wod" for the furiously
insane.[18] So again in an old English miscellany of the thirteenth
century, translated from the Latin, we read--

"Ofte we brennen in mod
And werden so weren wod;"

that is to say, "Oft do we burn in rage and become as it were mad."

I have, in examining that curious book, the "Vision of William
concerning Piers the Plowman," written in 1393 by William Langland,[19]
found one or two passages having reference to my subject which are worth
citing. The author, after saying that beggars whose churches are
brew-houses may be left to starve, adds that there are some, however,
who are idiotic or lunatic. He also says that men give gifts to
minstrels, and so should the rich help God's minstrels, namely,
lunatics. This is one of the rare instances in which the insane are
spoken of in kindly terms by the old writers, although it would be quite
unfair to regard what was doubtless harsh treatment as intentionally
cruel. Piers the Plowman speaks of men and women wanting in wit, whom he
styles "lunatik lollares," that is, persons who loll about, who care for
neither cold nor heat, and are "meuynge after the mone." He says that--

"Moneyless they walke
With a good wil, witless, meny wyde contreys
Ryght as Peter dade and Paul, save that they preche nat."

In many instances mistaken kindness, in others ignorance and
superstition, guided the past treatment of the insane. When residing in
Cornwall some years ago, I was interested in the traditions of that once
isolated county, and heard of a practice long since discontinued, which
illustrates this observation. It was called "bowssening" (or ducking)
the lunatic, from a Cornu-British or Armoric word, beuzi or bidhyzi
meaning to baptize, dip, or drown.[20] There were, it seems, many places
where this custom was observed in Cornwall, but the one I now refer to
was at Altarnun, and was called St. Nun's Pool. It is situated about
eight miles from Launceston. Though the name of this saint gives the
impression of her being a nun, it appears that she was a beautiful girl,
with whom Cereticus, a Welsh prince, fell in love. According to
tradition, she was buried at Altarnun. The church was afterwards
dedicated to St. Mary. The water from the pool was allowed to flow into
an enclosed space, and on the surrounding wall the patient was made to
stand with his back to the water, and was then by a sudden blow thrown
backwards into it. Then (to quote a graphic description which has been
given of it), "a strong fellowe, provided for the nonce, tooke him and
tossed him up and downe alongst and athwart the water, untill the
patient by forgoing his strength had somewhat forgot his fury. Then was
he conveyed to the church, and certain masses sung over him, upon which
handling, if his right wits returned, St. Nunne had the thanks; but if
there appeared small amendment, he was bowssened againe and againe while
there remayned in him any hope of life, for recovery." Men who had
actually witnessed this treatment of lunacy related this narrative to
Carew, the author of the "Survey of Cornwall," published in 1769, and he
gives an explanation of the custom which is no doubt erroneous, but is
curious for other reasons. "It may be," he says, "this device took
original from the Master of Bedlam, who (the fable sayeth) used to cure
his patients of that impatience by keeping them bound in pools up to the
middle, and so more or less after the fit of their fury" (p. 123). The
present Master goes further, and keeps them up to the neck in a
prolonged warm bath!

The Vicar of Altarnun, Rev. John Power, in response to my inquiries, has
been good enough to ask the oldest men in the parish whether they
remembered the well being so used, but they do not. At the corner of a
meadow there is still an intermittent spring, flowing freely in wet
weather. The tank which was formerly on the spot has gone, the farmers
having removed the stone in order to mend the fences, and consequently
much of the water has been diverted into other channels, emptying
itself into the river St. Inny, which runs a few hundred yards in the
valley below. It seems probable that the working of a large stone quarry
in the hills above has cut off the main current of the spring.

To Carew's account Dr. Borlase adds that in his opinion "a similar
bowssening pit has existed at a well in St. Agnes' parish." Among other
Cornish wells which had healing virtues assigned them was St. Levan's,
and the insane, no doubt, partook of them. "Over the spring," says Dr.
Boase, "lies a large flat stone, wide enough to serve as a foundation
for a little square chapel erected upon it; the chapel is no more than
five feet square, seven feet high, the little roof of it of stone. The
water is reckoned very good for eyes, toothache, and the like, and when
people have washed, they are always advised to go into this chapel and
sleep upon the stone, which is the floor of it, for it must be
remembered that whilst you are sleeping upon these consecrated stones,
the saint is sure to dispense his healing influence." Madron Well
attained a great celebrity for healing diseases and for divining. "Girls
dropped crooked pins in to raise bubbles and divine the period of their

Mr. W. C. Borlase, M.P., informs me that at St. Kea, near Truro, within
the walls of the church, was a stone to which, within the memory of an
old gentleman who died only about two years ago, an inhabitant of the
parish, on becoming insane, was chained. He adds that just as Altarnun
is Nun's altar, the parish of Elerky is derived from St. Kea's altar
(Eller or Aller-ke).

Scotland was still more remarkable than Cornwall for its lunacy-healing
wells and extraordinary superstitions, surviving also to a much later
period; in fact, not yet dispelled by civilization and science. Every
one has heard of St. Fillan's Well (strictly, a pool) in Perthshire, and
knows the lines in "Marmion"--

"Then to Saint Fillan's blessed well,
Whose spring can frenzied dreams dispel,
And the crazed brain restore."

This well, derived from the river of that name in the vale of
Strathfillan, and consecrated by the saint who, according to tradition,
converted the inhabitants to Christianity,[22] has been ever since
distinguished by his name, and esteemed of sovereign virtue in curing

There was an abbot living in the Vale of St. Fillan in 1703. "He is
pleased," says Pennant, in his "Tour in Scotland" (vol. ii. p. 15), "to
take under his protection the disordered in mind; and works wonderful
cures, say his votaries, unto this day." It was, he says, a second
Bethesda. He wrote in 1774.

Mr. Heron, the author of a "Journey through Part of Scotland," made in
the year 1793, observes that in his day "about two hundred persons
afflicted in this way are annually brought to try the benefits of its
salutary influence. These patients," he continues, "are conducted by
their friends, who first perform the ceremony of passing with them
thrice round a neighbouring cairn; on this cairn they then deposit a
simple offering of clothes, or perhaps of a small bunch of heath.... The
patient is then thrice immerged in the sacred pool; after the immersion
he is bound hand and foot, and left for the night in a chapel which
stands near. If the maniac is found loose in the morning, good hopes are
conceived of his full recovery. If he is still bound, his cure remains
doubtful. It sometimes happens that death relieves him during his
confinement from the troubles of life."[23]

An Englishman who visited the spot five years afterwards (1798) says the
patient was fastened down in the open churchyard on a stone all the
night, with a covering of hay over him, and St. Fillan's bell put over
his head. The people believed that wherever the bell was removed to, it
always returned to a particular place in the churchyard next morning.
"In order to ascertain the truth of this ridiculous story, I carried it
off with me," continues this English traveller. "An old woman, who
observed what I was about, asked me what I wanted with the bell, and I
told her that I had an unfortunate relation at home out of his mind, and
that I wanted to have him cured. 'Oh, but,' says she, 'you must bring
him here to be cured, or it will be of no use.' Upon which I told her
he was too ill to be moved, and off I galloped with the bell." To make
this story complete, I should add that the son of this gentleman,
residing in Hertfordshire, restored to Scotland this interesting relic,
after the lapse of seventy-one years, namely, in 1869.

At Struthill, in Stirlingshire, was a well famous for its healing
virtues in madness. "Several persons," says Dalyell, "testified to the
Presbytery of Stirling in 1668, that, having carried a woman thither,
they had stayed two nights at an house hard by the well; that the first
night they did bind her twice to a stone at the well, but she came into
the house to them, being loosed without any help; the second night they
bound her over again to the same stone, and she returned loosed; and
they declare also, that she was very mad before they took her to the
well, but since that time she is working and sober in her wits." He adds
that this well was still celebrated in 1723, and votive offerings were
left; but no one then surviving knew that the virtues of the stone were
in request. The chapel itself was demolished in 1650, in order to
suppress the superstitions connected with this well.[24]

The virtues of St. Ronan's Well were renowned of old, and are still
credited. The lunatic walks round the Temple of St. Molonah, whose ruin
near the Butt of Lewis remains. He is sprinkled with water from the
well, is bound, and placed on the site of the altar for the night. A
cure is expected, if he sleep; if not, the fates are considered adverse,
and he returns home. My authority, Dr. Mitchell, records a case of

There is in Ross-shire a small Island on Loch Maree, called Inch or
Innis Maree, where is a famous well, bearing the name of this saint,[25]
who lived at the beginning of the eighth century. This well was
celebrated for its virtues in the cure of mental disorders. Pennant, the
author already quoted, visited it in 1769, and gave a graphic
description of the superstitious practices connected with its supposed
sanctity. "The curiosity of the place," he writes, "is the well of the
saint, of power unspeakable in cases of lunacy. The patient is brought
into the sacred island, is made to kneel before the altar where his
attendants leave an offering in money; he is then brought to the well
and sips some of the holy water; a second offering is made; that done,
he is thrice dipped in the lake, and the same operation is repeated
every day for some weeks; and it often happens, by natural causes, the
patient receives relief, of which the saint receives the credit. I must
add that the visitants draw from the state of the well an omen of the
disposition of St. Maree; if his well is full they suppose he will be
propitious; if not, they proceed in their operations with fears and
doubts, but let the event be what it will, he is held in high


This practice was, no doubt, closely connected with the belief of the
inhabitants that the insane were possessed. "To preclude the demon from
lurking in the hair, a special water was sometimes used; the patient was
plunged over head and ears in a bath of Gregorian water,[27] and
detained there just up to the drowning point."[28] Dr. Mitchell
(Commissioner in Lunacy in Scotland) has given a most interesting
account of similar Scotch customs associated with their treatment of
their insane, practised from time immemorial, and therefore illustrating
the proceedings of a remote antiquity, pagan as well as Christian. But I
must content myself with a very brief reference to his descriptions.
Writing of the island of Maree in 1862, he states that about seven years
before a furious madman was brought there; "a rope was passed round his
waist, and with a couple of men at one end in advance, and a couple at
the other behind, like a furious bull to the slaughter-house, he was
marched to the Loch side and placed in a boat, which was pulled once
round the island, the patient being jerked into the water at intervals.
He was then landed, drank of the water, attached his offering to the
tree, and, as I was told, in a state of happy tranquillity went

Whittier has expressed in verse the virtues of the well of St. Maree, as
Scott those of St. Fillan:--

"And whoso bathes therein his brow,
With care or madness burning,
Feels once again his healthful thought
And sense of peace returning.

"O restless heart and fevered brain,
Unquiet and unstable,
That holy well of Loch Maree
Is more than idle fable."

Of another place, the island of Melista, in the Hebrides, it is stated
that, according to tradition, no one was ever born there who was not
from birth insane, or who did not become so before death. "In the last
generation, three persons had the misfortune for the first time to see
the light of day on this unlucky spot, and all three were mad. Of one of
them, who is remembered by the name of Wild Murdoch, many strange
stories are told. It is said that his friends used to tie a rope round
his body, make it fast to the stern of the boat, and then pull out to
sea, taking the wretched man in tow. The story goes that he was so
buoyant he could not sink; that they 'tried to press him down into the
water;' that he could swim with a stone fastened to him; that when
carried to the rocky holms of Melista or Greinan, round which the open
Atlantic surges, and left there alone, he took to the water and ran
ashore; and that when bound hand and foot, and left in a kiln, by a
miracle of strength he broke his bonds and escaped. It is thus they are
said to have treated him during his fits of maniacal excitement; and
there are many still alive who saw it all, and gave a helping hand....
The further story of Wild Murdoch will astonish no one. He murdered his
sister, was taken south, and died in an asylum, or, as the people say
and believe, in the cell of a gloomy prison, under which the sea-wave
came and went for ever."[30]

Curious ancient superstitions besides those connected with wells still
survive in the "land o' cakes." The same observant writer says that in
the north of Scotland they literally sacrifice a cock to a nameless but
secretly acknowledged power, whose propitiation is sought in the cure of
epilepsy. On the spot where the patient falls a black cock is buried
alive, along with a lock of the patient's hair, and some parings of his
nails. Let it not be supposed that this was done in some outlandish part
of the world. Dr. Mitchell assures us that this sacrifice was openly
offered recently in an improving town to which the railway now conveys
the traveller, and which has six churches and ten schools for a
population of about four thousand. If such things are done in the green
tree, what must have been done in the dry? We may safely read the past
in the present. In fact, Dalyell[31] states that in 1597 the "earding of
ane quik cok in the grund" was regarded as a cure of madness.

He also records the fact that a Scotch empiric of the seventeenth
century professed the cure of those "'visseit with frenacies, madness,
falling evil (epilepsy), persones distractit in their wittis, and with
feirful apparitiones, etc., and utheris uncouth diseases; all done be
sorcerie, incantation, devellische charmeing.' Above forty persons are
enumerated for whom he had prescribed, for which he was strangled and
burnt as too familiar with Satan."[32] The same author relates that a
poor woman having become frantic, the alleged author of the malady came,
and "laying hands on hir, she convaleschit and receivit hir sinsis
agane."[33] This was in 1616.

Insane persons were sometimes treated with holy water, to which salt
was added, with the idea that the devil abhorred salt as the emblem of
immortality (we have already had to notice this use of salt among the
Saxons). Hence it was "consecrated by the papists, as profiting the
health of the body, and for the banishment of demons." A certain
remedial "watter," used in Scotland by wise women or herbalists, is
supposed to have contained the same ingredient. Elspeth Sandisone, in
1629, was bereft of her senses. One Richart was thus accused of having
tried to cure her. "Ye call the remedie 'watter forspeking,' and took
watter into ane round cape and went out into the byre, and took sumthing
out of your purse lyk unto great salt, and did cast thairin, and did
spit thrie severall times in the samen; and ye confest yourself when ye
had done so, ye aunchit in bitts, quhilk is ane Norne terme, quhilk is
to say ye blew your braith thairin and thairefter ye sent it to the said
Elspeth with the servand woman of the hous, and bad that the said
Elspeth sould be waschit thairin, hands and feit, and scho sould be als
holl as ever scho was."[34]

I may give here a curious illustration of insanity being induced, not
cured, by superstition in Scotland. John Law's servant "rane wode" when
John Knox had retreated to St. Andrews during the civil contentions of
his later years. The story is thus quaintly told in Bannatyne's
"Journal" (p. 309). John Law of that city, being in Edinburgh Castle in
January, 1572, "the ladie Home wald neidis thraip in his face that he
was banist the said toune because that, in the yarde reasit (rose) sum
sanctis, among whome cam up the devill with hornis, which when his
servant Ritchart saw, rane wode, and so deit."[35]

But I must not dwell longer on the treatment of lunatics by the
Highlanders, or the superstitions of Scotland in this connection, and
will now say a few words in reference to Ireland.

It would be easy to narrate the stories which in Ireland connect popular
superstition with the treatment of the insane, but I will only refer to
one. The reader may have heard of the "Valley of the Lunatics," or
Glen-na-galt, in that country. It is situated in Kerry, near Tralee. It
was believed, not only in that county, but in Ireland generally, that
all lunatics would ultimately, if left to themselves, find their way to
this glen to be cured.[36] In the valley are two wells, called the
"Lunatic's Wells," or Tober-na-galt, to which the lunatics resort,
crossing a stream flowing through the glen, at a point called the
"Madman's Ford," or Ahagaltaun, and passing by the "Standing Stone of
the Lunatics" (Cloghnagalt). Of these waters they drink, and eat the
cresses growing on the margin; the firm belief being that the healing
water, and the cresses, and the mysterious virtue of the glen will
effectually restore the madman to mental health.

Dr. Oscar Woods, the medical superintendent of the District Lunatic
Asylum, Kilkenny, informs me that the superstition has nearly died out
since this asylum was opened, about thirty years ago. Dr. Woods gives a
different etymology, namely, bright, for galt; the valley in that
case deriving its name in contradistinction to that on the other side of
the hill, Emaloghue, on which the sun scarcely ever shines. He thinks
the superstition arose from persons labouring under melancholy going
from the sunless to the bright valley. "Why this place," wrote Dr. C.
Smith in 1756,[37] "rather than any other should be frequented by
lunatics, nobody can pretend to ascertain any rational cause, and yet no
one truth is more firmly credited here by the common people than this
impertinent fable." He, however, says that having regard to the awful
appearance of these desolate glens and mountains, none but madmen would
enter them! Recurring to the meaning of the word galt, a gentleman in
Ireland, a professor of Irish, states that geilt is a mad person, one
living in the woods, and that gealt is the genitive plural. It is
interesting to find, also, from the same source, that the Irish word for
the moon is gealach, indicating a probable etymological connection.

As to the origin of this superstition, it appears to be of very ancient
date. It is stated[38] that the Fenian tale, called "Cath Finntraglia,"
or "The Battle of Ventry," relates how Daire Dornmhar, "the monarch of
the world," landed at Ventry to conquer Erin, and was opposed in mortal
combat by Finnmac-Cumhail and his men. The battles were many and lasted
a year and a day, and at last the "monarch of the world" was completely
repulsed, and driven from the shores of Ireland. In the battle, Gall,
the son of the King of Ulster, only a youth, who had come to the help of
Finnmac-Cumhail, "having entered the battle with extreme eagerness, his
excitement soon increased to absolute frenzy, and, after having
performed astounding deeds of valour, fled in a state of derangement
from the scene of slaughter, and never stopped till he plunged into the
wild seclusion of this valley." The opinion is that this Gall was the
first lunatic who went there, and that with him this singular local
superstition originated, followed as it has been by innumerable
pilgrimages to the beautiful "Valley of Lunatics" and its wells.

A visitor to this valley in 1845 writes: "We went to see Glenagalt, or
the 'Madman's Glen,' the place, as our guide sagely assured us, 'to
which all the mad people in the world would face, if they could get
loose.' After pursuing for miles our romantic route, we came to the
highest part of the road, and turned a hill which completely shut out
Glen Inch; and lo! before us lay a lovely valley, sweeping down through
noble hills to Brandon Bay. The peak of the mighty Brandon himself ended
one ridge of the boundary, while high, though less majestic, mountains
formed the other; and this valley so rich and fertile, so gay with
cornfields, brown meadows, potato gardens, and the brilliant green of
the flax, so varied and so beautiful in the bright mingling of Nature's
skilful husbandry, was the 'Madman's Glen.' I felt amazed and
bewildered, for I had expected to see a gloomy solitude, with horrid
crags and gloomy precipices. Not at all; the finest and richest valley
which has greeted my eyes since we entered the Highlands of Kerry is
this--smiling, soft, and lovely.

"We took our leave of fair Glenagalt, and assuredly if any aspect of
external nature could work such a blessed change, the repose, peace, and
plenty of this charming valley would restore the unsettled brain of a
poor unfortunate."[39]

The late Professor Eugene O'Curry, in his work on the "Manners and
Customs of the Ancient Irish," published in 1873, makes no reference to
madness, idiocy, or possession. He refers to a sort of witchcraft under
the head of divination, where he gives an instance of a trance produced
by magical arts; of the mad rage of the hero, and of how, in the midst
of that rage, he was caught, as it were, by the hands and feet, through
Druidical incantations.[40]

Returning to England, let the reader imagine himself in London in the
early and middle part of the sixteenth century. There, in St. Giles's,
might have been seen a physician, Dr. Borde, who, born in 1490 in
Sussex, had made some practice in the metropolis, including that of
mental disorders. He had been a Carthusian monk, but was "dispensed of
religion," studied medicine, and followed the medical profession, first
at Glasgow, and then in London. What, it may be asked, would have been
his method of caring for lunatics? The answer may be found in a curious
book which he wrote, entitled "A Compendious Rygment or a Dyetry of
Helth," and published in 1542.[41] There are several references, of much
interest, to insanity. One chapter of the book is headed, "An order and
a dyett for them the whiche be madde and out of theyr wytte." In it the
doctor says, "I do advertyse every man the whiche is madde or lunatycke
or frantycke or demonyacke, to be kepte in safegarde in some close house
or chamber where there is lytell light; and that we have a keeper the
whiche the madde man do feare." The remainder is conceived in quite a
kindly spirit. The patient is to have no knife or shears; no girdle,
except a weak list of cloth, lest he destroy himself; no pictures of man
or woman on the wall, lest he have fantasies. He is to be shaved once a
month, to drink no wine or strong beer, but "warm suppynges three tymes
a daye, and a lytell warm meat." Few words are to be used except for
reprehension or gentle reformation.

This, then, is the way in which a well-intentioned doctor would take
care of a lunatic in the reign of Henry VIII. We wish that all the
treatment pursued had been as considerate. That it was not so we shall
see; but I would first add the curious experience of Dr. Borde in Rome,
which he visited, and where he witnessed the treatment of a lunatic
which was very singular, and founded on the vulgar notion of his being
possessed. He says that to a marble pillar near St. Peter's, persons
supposed to be possessed, that is, insane, were brought, and said to be
cured. A German lady was the patient when the English physician was the
spectator, and he describes her as being taken violently by some twenty
men to the pillar, or rather into it, for it appears to have contained a
chamber; "and after her did go in a priest, and did examine the woman in
this manner. 'Thou devil or devils, I adjure thee by the potential power
of the Father and the Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the virtue of
the Holy Ghost, that thou do show to me for what cause thou doest
possess this woman?'" What words were answered, Dr. Borde says he will
not write, "for men will not believe it, but would say it were a foul
and great lie." What he heard made him afraid to tarry, lest the demons
should have come out of her and entered into him. We are not left in
doubt as to his belief in the possession of lunatics. "I considering
this," he says, "and weke of faith and afeard crossed myself and durst
not hear and see such matters for it was so stupendous and above all
reason if I should write it." It is certainty a pity that the worthy
doctor did not stay longer to watch, and to record in his graphic
language, the effect of the treatment.

From the same motives lunatics in Great Britain were bound to holy
crosses. Sir David Lyndsay, in his poem called "Monarche," written
nearly four hundred years ago, says--

"They bryng mad men on fuit and horsse,
And byndes theme to Saint Mangose Crosse."

To this cross (at Lotherwerd, now Borthwick, county Edinburgh), says an
old writer, Jocelin, a monk of Furness, "many labouring under various
disorders, and especially the furious and those vexed with demons, are
bound in the evening; and in the morning they are often found sane and
whole, and are restored to their liberty."[42]

The resort to pillars of churches is illustrated by what an Augustine
Canon of Scone says, in a work on the rule of his foundation (Paris,
1508), for he protests against the desecration of churches, with the
exception of curing lunatics in the way I have just described, as being
bound to the church pillars.

Nearly a hundred years after Dr. Borde wrote, that remarkable work was
published, "The Anatomy of Melancholy," by Burton. Some quaint lines and
a rough engraving on the title-page illustrate but too well the
treatment of the insane familiar to him, although not a physician; it
seems worse, instead of better, than that of the doctor of St. Giles.

"But see the madman rage downright
With furious looks, a ghastly sight!
Naked in chains bound doth he lie
And roars amain, he knows not why."

The first edition of Burton's work was published in 1621, five years
after the death of Shakespeare, who speaks, in "As You Like It" (Act
iii. sc. 2), of madmen deserving "a dark house and a whip," and in
"Twelfth Night" makes Sir Toby say of Malvolio (Act iii. scene 4),
"Come, we'll have him in a dark room and bound." The medical treatment
of melancholia contained in Burton consists mainly of herbs, as borage,
supposed to affect the heart, poppies to act on the head, eupatory
(teazel) on the liver, wormwood on the stomach, and endive to purify the
blood. Vomits of white hellebore or antimony, and purges of black
hellebore or aloes, are prescribed.

The famous "Herbal" of Gerarde, published in 1597, gives various
remedies for madness, but they are, unfortunately, copied for the most
part from Dioscorides, Galen, and other ancient writers. They are so far
of interest that they show what was accepted as the best-known drug
practice at the time in England in mental disorders. Under "A Medicine
against Madnesse" we have rhubarb and wild thyme, the latter being "a
right singular remedie to cure them that have had a long phrensie or
lethargie." He is here only following Aetius, and when he says, "Besides
its singular effects in splenetical matters, it helpeth any disease of
melancholy," he appears to follow Galen. Feverfew is said to be "good
for such as be melancholike, sad, pensive, and without speech." Syrup
made of flowers of borage "comforteth the heart, purgeth the melancholy,
and quieteth the phrenticke or lunaticke person." Hellebore, of course,
has its virtues recognized. Black hellebore, or the Christmas rose,
"purgeth all melancholy humors, yet not without trouble and difficultie,
therefore it is not to be given but to robustious and strong bodies as
Mesues teacheth. It is good for mad and furious men, for melancholy,
dull, and heavy persons, for those that are troubled with the falling
sickness (epilepsy)," and "briefely for all those that are troubled with
blacke choler, and molested with melancholy."[43]

Gerarde strongly commends "that noble and famous confection Alkermes,
made by the Arabians," containing the grains of the scarlet oak (Ilex
coccigera). "It is good against melancholy deseases, vaine
imaginations, sighings, griefe and sorrow without manifest cause, for
that it purgeth away melancholy humors" (p. 1343). Poultices applied to
the head, of mustard and figs, are recommended for epilepsy and
lethargy. Gerarde adopts from Apuleius the virtues of double yellow and
white batchelor's buttons, hung "in a linnen cloath about the necke of
him that is lunaticke, in the waine of the moone, when the signe shall
be in the first degree of Taurus or Scorpio."

Such are the principal remedies for insanity given by Gerarde, original
and second hand.

Returning to Burton, it should be said that among the causes of the
disease he distinctly recognizes the same uncanny influence that his
contemporaries Coke and Hale regarded as a legal fact--I mean
witchcraft. After saying that "many deny witches altogether, or, if
there be any, assert that they can do no harm," of which opinion, he
adds, "is our countryman (Reginald) Scot (of Kent),[44] but of the
contrary opinion are most lawyers, physicians, and philosophers," he
proceeds, "They can cause tempests, etc., which is familiarly practised
by witches in Norway, as I have proved, and, last of all, cure and cause
most diseases to such as they hate, as this of Melancholy among the

It may be asked, What was the medical knowledge or practice at the time
of Coke and Hale, to which they would turn for direction when insanity
came before them in the courts of law? and I think a correct reply would
be best obtained by taking this wonderful book of Burton's, the works of
Sir Thomas Browne, who gave evidence before Hale, and what may be called
the case-book of the celebrated Court physician, Sir Theodore de
Mayerne. A Genevese, he settled in England in 1606, and was regarded as
the highest authority in mental and nervous affections. A medical work
of his was translated into Latin by Bonet. Mayerne's treatment was
certainly of a somewhat cumbrous character, and his patients must have
had an unusual and commendable amount of perseverance if they pursued it
thoroughly. The drugs probably cured in part, at least, from the duty
entailed upon the patients of collecting the numerous herbs which were
ordered for the composition of the mixture, and Sir Theodore truly and
naively remarks to one of his patients, "It will take some time before
you have mixed your medicine." It is clear that he was under the
influence of the old belief in the connection between the liver and
insanity, and the paramount importance of getting rid of the black bile.
Of one case he asserts that the root of all the griefs wherewith the
patient has been afflicted is a melancholy humour, generated in the
liver and wrought upon in the spleen. This humour is stated to be mixed
in the veins, and so extended to the brain, which this offensive enemy
of nature doth assault as an organical part. Hence, he says, it happens
that the principal functions of the soul do act erroneously. His
treatment consisted of emetics, purges, opening the veins under the
tongue, blisters, issues, and shaving the head, followed by a cataplasm
upon it, the backbone anointed with a very choice balsam of earthworms
or bats. One prescription for melancholia contains no less than
twenty-seven ingredients, to be made into a decoction, to which is to be
added that sine qua non, the ever precious hellebore. Other remedies
were prescribed; in some cases the "bezoartick pastills," composed of an
immense number of ingredients, including the skull of a stag and of a
healthy man who had been executed. The commentary triumphantly made by
this lover of polypharmacy in the case in which this medicine was
administered, runs thus:--"These things being exactly performed, this
noble gentleman was cured." With certain modifications, the general
treatment here indicated was that in fashion at the period to which I
refer, and was based on a strong conviction of the presence of certain
peccant humours in the body, affecting the brain, which required

Mayerne, of whom there is a portrait in the College of Physicians, was
physician to more crowned heads than has fallen to the lot of probably
any other doctor, namely, Henry IV. of France, James I. of England, his
queen, Anne of Denmark, Charles I., and Charles II. He introduced
calomel into practice. Dying in 1654/5, he was buried in the church of
St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, where a monument was erected to his

The royal author of the book on Demonology (first published in
1597)--the high and mighty Prince James--gives sundry learned reasons
why witches are not to be regarded as mad, and why, therefore, the plea
of insanity should be rejected in the legal tribunals. Written in the
form of a dialogue between Philomathes and Epistemon, the latter, who
personates the king, says, "As to your second reason (that Witchcraft is
but very melancholique imagination of simple raving creatures), grounded
upon Physicke, in attributing the confessions or apprehensions of
Witches to a natural melancholique humour, any one that pleased
physikally to consider upon the natural humour of Melancholy, according
to all the physicians that ever writ thereupon, shall find that that
will be over short a cloake to cover their knavery with."[47]

James is very wroth with Reginald Scot and Wierus[48] for their
opposition to the prevalent belief, and urges, as proof of the existence
of witches ("which have never fallen out so clear in any age or
nation"), daily experience and their confessions. Reginald Scot had
dared to write, in his "Discovery of Witchcraft" (1584): "Alas, I am
sorry and ashamed to see how many die who being said to be bewitched,
only seek for magical cures, whom wholesome diet and good medicines
would have recovered.... These affections tho' they appear in the mind
of man, yet are they bred in the body and proceed from the humour which
is the very dregs of the blood; nourishing those places from whence
proceed fear, cogitations, superstitions, fastings, labours, and such

It is striking to observe how much more enlightened this writer was than
a physician to whom I have already referred, Sir Thomas Browne. His
famous sentence, in which he gives full credence to witches, makes us
obliged to admit that when so distinguished a man entertained such
superstitious notions, we cannot be much surprised if contemporary
judges regarded many of the really insane as witches, although they had
before them the enlightened opinions of Reginald Scot.

The history of incubi, or "night-comers," is doubtless, to a large
extent, a narrative of the hallucinations, delusions, and automatic
thoughts of the insane, although to what extent would be a difficult
question to determine, because some were assuredly frightened into the
confessions which they made; and, further, it is hard to say how much of
a certain belief was due to the current popular ignorance and credulity,
and how much to actual mental disease. Still the ignorant opinions of an
age find their nisus and most rapid development in persons of weak or
diseased mind, and they form the particular delusion manifested; and at
a period when witches are universally believed in, there must be some
reason why one believes he or she has had transactions with Satan, and
another does not believe it. It is, indeed, impossible to read the
narratives of some of the unfortunate hags who were put to death for
witchcraft, without recognizing the well-marked features of the victims
of cerebral disorder. In this way I have no doubt a considerable number
of mad people were destroyed. Their very appearance suggested to their
neighbours the notion of something weird and impish; the physiognomy of
madness was mistaken for that of witchcraft, while the poor wretches
themselves, conscious of unaccustomed sensations and singular
promptings, referred them to the agency of demons. Strangely enough,
even an inquisitor--Nider, who died in 1440--gives many instances of
persons whose symptoms he himself recognized as those not of possession,
but of madness.

It is hardly necessary to say that the treatment of the unfortunate
lunatics and epileptics who were judged to be witches by James I. was
nothing else than death, and he thus coolly comments on this punishment:
"It is commonly used by fire, but that is an indifferent thing, to be
used in every country, according to the law or custom thereof."[49]

I cannot pass from this subject without doing honour to two men who
abroad, no less than Reginald Scot in Britain, opposed the immolation of
lunatics--Wierus, physician to the Duke of Cleves, who wrote a
remarkable work in 1567, and appealed to the princes of Europe to cease
shedding innocent blood; and Cornelius Agrippa,[50] who interfered in
the trial of a so-called witch in Brabant, having sore contention with
an inquisitor, who through unjust accusations drew a poor woman into his
butchery, not so much to examine as to torment her. When Agrippa
undertook to defend her, alleging there was no proof of sorcery, the
inquisitor replied, "One thing there is which is proof and matter
sufficient; for her mother was in times past burnt for a witch." When
Agrippa retorted that this had reference to another person, and
therefore ought not to be admitted by the judge, the inquisitor was
equal to the occasion, and replied that witchcraft was naturally
engrafted into this child, because the parents used to sacrifice their
children to the devil as soon as they were born. On this Agrippa boldly
exclaimed, "Oh, thou wicked priest, is this thy divinity? Dost thou use
to draw poor guiltless women to the rack by these forged devices? Dost
thou with such sentences judge others to be heretics, thou being a
greater heretic than either Faustus or Donatus?" The natural consequence
was that the inquisitor then threatened to proceed against the advocate
himself as a supporter of witches; nevertheless, he continued his
defence of the unhappy woman, who, whether a lunatic or not, was
delivered, we read, by him "from the claws of the bloody monk, who, with
her accuser, was condemned in a great sum of money, and remained
infamous after that time to almost all men."

Scot, who cites this case, shows great familiarity with examples of
melancholy and delusion, and from his work have been derived many of the
best known illustrations of the latter, including the delusions of being
monarchs, brute beasts, and earthen pots greatly fearing to be broken.
The old story of the patient who thought Atlas weary of upholding the
heavens and would let the sky fall upon him, is narrated by this author,
as well as that of the man who believed his nose to be as big as a

It comes then, to this--to revert to the question, what was the medical
knowledge or practice at the time of Coke and Hale, to which they would
turn for direction when insanity came before them in the Courts of
Law?--that when the lawyers went to the doctors for light they got
surprisingly little help. They had better have confined themselves to
reading the old Greek and Roman books on medicine, of which the medical
practice of that period was but a servile imitation, and not have added,
from their belief in witchcraft, the horrible punishment of lunatics,
which in our country extended over the period between 1541 and 1736,
when the laws against witchcraft were abolished. The last judicial
murder of a witch in the British Isles (Sutherlandshire) was in 1722.

Leaving now the insane who were punished as witches, I pass on to remark
that in Percy's "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," it is stated that
the English have more songs and ballads on the subject of madness than
any of their neighbours. "Whether," the writer proceeds, "there be any
truth in the insinuation that we are more liable to this calamity than
other nations,[51] or that our native gloominess hath peculiarly
recommended subjects of this class to our writers, we certainly do not
find the same in the printed collections of French and Italian songs."
Half a dozen so-called mad songs are selected. These refer to much the
same period as that we have been considering; and, in fact, we come upon
the "Old Tom of Bedlam," or Cranke or Abram man, who "would swear he had
been in Bedlam, and would talk frantickly of purpose," so notorious in
connection with the beggary which endeavoured to make capital out of the
asylum most familiar to our ancestors of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. In this light the Bedlam beggars appear in "King Lear"--

"The country gives me proof and precedent
Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices,
Stick in their numb'd and mortify'd bare arms
Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary;"

and these enforce their charity by lunatic "bans," that is, by licences
to beg under the badge of the Star of Bethlehem.

Some doggerel from the most ancient of the Percy "Reliques" will serve
for a sample of the rest:

"Forth from my sad and darksome cell,
Or from the deepe abysse of Hell,
Mad Tom is come into the world againe,
To see if he can cure his distemper'd braine."

Tom appears to have brought away with him some of his fetters, then
sufficiently abundant in Bedlam:

"Come, Vulcan, with tools and with tackles,
To knocke off my troublesome shackles."

This method of treatment--by fetters--has not, it may be well to
state, survived, like immersion, in the practice of the present Master
of Bedlam.

We learn from Shakespeare how "poor Tom that eats the swimming frog, the
toad, the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water [newt]; ... swallows the
old rat, and the ditch-dog;" and "drinks the green mantle of the
standing pool," was "whipped from tything to tything, and stocked,
punished, and imprisoned....

Mice, and rats, and such small deere
Have been Tom's food for seven long yeare."[52]

Whipping-posts were very common in the reign of Henry VIII., and we
suppose long before; certainly also much later. About the middle of the
seventeenth century an old poet, John Taylor, once a waterman on the
Thames, and hence called the "Water Poet," wrote:

"In London, and within one mile, I ween,
There are of jails and prisons full eighteen,
And sixty whipping-posts and stocks and cages."

The whipping-post was sometimes called the "tree of truth." There is a
curious passage in Sir Thomas More's works, in which he orders a lunatic
to be bound to a tree and soundly beaten with rods.

"There was a tree in Sir Thomas More's garden, at which he so often beat
Lutherans, that it was called the 'tree of troth,'" says Burnet. This
was not the tree at which he had the poor lunatic flogged, for he says
that was in the street.

"It was a good plea in those days to an action for assault, battery, and
false imprisonment, that the plaintiff was a lunatic, and that therefore
the defendant had arrested him, confined him, and whipped him."[53]

Whipping-posts may still be seen in some villages in England, in the
vicinity of stocks. Of course they were largely employed for idle
vagabonds, but many really insane people suffered. The following item
from the constable's account at Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire,
illustrates the custom of whipping wandering lunatics:--"1690/1. Paid in
charges, taking up a distracted woman, watching her and whipping her
next day, 8s. 6d."[54]

Let me here refer for a moment to the "brank."

The "brank" or "scold's bridle" was very probably used in former days
for lunatics--an instrument of torture which has received much
elucidation from my friend Dr. Brushfield, the late medical
superintendent of Brookwood Asylum. Indeed, it is certain that it, or a
similar gag, called the "witch's bridle," was employed for these
unfortunate suspects, of whom so many, as we have good reason to
conclude, were insane or hystero-epileptics. In the church steeple at
Forfar one was preserved, within recent times, with the date 1661.[55]
Archdeacon Hale many years ago suggested that the "brank" was used to
check noisy lunatics of the female sex; and in reference to this, Dr.
Brushfield remarks: "Medical officers of asylums can always point out
many female patients who, if they had been living a couple of centuries
back, would undoubtedly have been branked as scolds. One of the female
lunatics in the Cheshire Asylum gave me, a few days since, a very
graphic account of the manner in which she had been bridled some years
ago whilst an inmate of a workhouse."[56]

No doubt, in addition to branks and whipping-posts, the pillory and
stocks, and probably the ducking-stool, were made use of for unruly and
crazy people, who nowadays would be comfortably located in an asylum.

What now, let us ask in conclusion, are the practical inferences to draw
from the descriptions which I have given respecting the popular and
medical treatment of lunatics in the good old times in the British

In the first place, we see that the nature of the malady under which the
insane laboured was completely misunderstood; that they often passed as
witches and possessed by demons, and were tortured as such and burnt at
the stake, when their distempered minds ought to have been gently and
skilfully treated. Some, however, were recognized by the monks as simply
lunatic, and were treated by the administration of herbs, along with, in
many instances, some superstitious accompaniment, illustrating, when
successful, the influence of the imagination.

Further, the medical treatment, so far as it made any pretension to
methods of cure, was either purely empirical, or founded upon the one
notion that descended from generation to generation from the earliest
antiquity--that there was an excess of bile in the blood, and that it
must be expelled by emetics or purgatives.

Again, there was the more violent remedy of flagellation, one always
popular and easy of application; equally efficacious, too, whether
regarded as a punishment for violent acts, or as a means of thrashing
out the supposed demon lurking in the body and the real cause of the
malady. And there was, of course, as the primary treatment, seclusion in
a dark room and fetters.

To anticipate what belongs to subsequent chapters, we may say here that
when the insane were no longer treated in monasteries, or brought to
sacred wells, or flogged at "trees of truth," they fared no better--nay,
I think, often worse--when they were shut up in mad-houses and crowded
into workhouses. They were too often under the charge of brutal keepers,
were chained to the wall or in their beds, where they lay in dirty
straw, and frequently, in the depth of winter, without a rag to cover
them. It is difficult to understand why and how they continued to live;
why their caretakers did not, except in the case of profitable patients,
kill them outright; and why, failing this--which would have been a
kindness compared with the prolonged tortures to which they were
subjected--death did not come sooner to their relief.


[2] Collected and edited by the Rev. Oswald Cockayne, M.A., 1865.
Published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls.

[3] Corn or seed to cure bewitching (Saxon). Supposed to be the seeds of
"wild saffron."

[4] Op. cit., vol. ii. p. 137; Leech Book, I. lxiii.

[5] That is, a small bell used in the church, probably the acolyte's.
St. Fillan's was twelve inches high. See postea.

[6] Op. cit., vol. i. p. 161.

[7] Op. cit., p. 171.

[8] Op. cit., pp. 313-315.

[9] Op. cit., p. 351 ("Medicina de quadrupedibus" of Sextus Placitus).

[10] Op. cit., p. 361.

[11] Op. cit., vol. ii. pp. 343, 143, 343, 307, and 345.

[12] Wodnes (Saxon) signifies madness. "Ance wod and ay waur," i.e.
increasing in insanity. (See Jamieson's Scotch Dictionary, 1825: "Wodman
= a madman.")

[13] Op. cit., vol. ii. p. 335.

[14] Preface to vol. ii. p. xix.-xxiii.

[15] Vol. iv., preface, p. xxxiv.

[16] Vol. iv. p. 225.

[17] In Chambers's "Book of Days," in an article on "Holy Wells," it is
added to the above statement that in the seventeenth century St.
Winifred could boast of thousands of votaries, including James II.

[18] In the "Miller's Tale," the carpenter is befooled into looking like
a madman. "They tolden every man that he was wood," etc. (Percy
Society's edition, vol. i. p. 152).

[19] Early English Text Society, vol. iii. p. 163. See also Clarendon
Press Series, edited by Mr. Skeats. London, 1866.

[20] "Archaeologia Britannica," by Ed. Lhuyd, 1707. The Armoric word for
mania is diboelder or satoni; the Cornish, meskatter; the British,
mainigh, among others.

[21] These passages from Dr. Borlase and Dr. Boase will be found in the
valuable address at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, by W. C. Borlase,
F.S.A., 1878 (Journal of the Institution, 1878, No. xx. pp. 58, 59). It
forms a little work on Cornish Saints, and from it is derived the
statement made in regard to St. Nonna or Nun.

[22] Honoured both in Scotland and Ireland on account of his great
sanctity and miracles, he "exchanged his mortal life for a happy
immortality in the solitude of Sirach, not far from Glendarchy,
Scotland. His mother, Kentigerna, was also a woman of great virtues, and
honoured after her death for a Saint" ("Britannia Sancta, or Lives of
British Saints," 1745, p. 20).

[23] Vol. i. p. 282.

[24] "Darker Superstitions of Scotland," p. 82. Macfarlane,
"Geographical Collections,"

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